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The Socially Conservative State of … California?

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Does California live up to its socially liberal reputation? Statistics suggest otherwise.

California is generally thought of as a very liberal place. The Democratic Party is certainly doing well; Republicans are at an all-time low almost everywhere in the state.

This applies to social positions as well. The stereotype is that Californians are very socially liberal. California is, after all, home to San Francisco and Berkeley – the natural environment of the godless hippie and homosexual. Hollywood is also located in California, and Hollywood’s not exactly a bastion of social conservatism.

It may surprise some, then, to note that in the past four years Californians have voted against gay marriage, marijuana, and the abolition of the death penalty. These positions were debated in three successive propositions. Each time the socially conservative side won. Here are the numbers:

Proposition What It Proposed Socially Conservative Side Socially Liberal Side
8 No to Gay Marriage 52.2% 47.8%
19 Legalizing Marijuana 53.5% 46.5%
34 Abolishing the Death Penalty 52.0% 48.0%

Each of the propositions had different things going on. Gay marriage was widely expected to win, and it shocked liberals when the people said no. Legal marijuana at first appeared to have majority support. But as the details of the proposition for legal marijuana came out (it was said to be badly written), its numbers plummeted. On the other hand, few paid attention to Proposition 34. The abolishment of the death penalty was never expected to pass, and it surprised few when it didn’t. Yet the end results are remarkably similar for the different contours that the propositions took.

From the numbers, it looks like there’s a socially conservative majority of 52% to 53% of Californians.

Ironically, the social conservatism displayed here might be a side-effect of the same forces behind the Democratic Party’s rise. The growing Hispanic and Asian vote leans strongly Democratic; it’s why the Republicans are collapsing in California. At the same time, Hispanics and Asians (especially immigrants) are – as Republicans never tire of saying – are often socially conservative. South-Central Los Angeles might give the Democratic candidate 80-90% of the vote. That doesn’t mean that it will support gay marriage, legalized marijuana, or the abolishment of the death penalty.

It’s too bad that Republicans can’t channel this social conservatism amongst immigrants into support for the Republican Party.


Photo by Håkan Dahlström released under a Creative Commons license.

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Right now, I am a college student living in southern California. I’ve been heavily following politics for as long as I can remember.

I would characterize myself as a left-leaning political moderate. I’m somewhat socially conservative and fairly economically liberal (as defined in the United States). I will attempt to maintain a high-level, respectful level of argumentation – even if I disagree vehemently with a particular person or a particular political viewpoint.